Profile: Palomino Puma

Profile: Palomino Puma

Whether you’re an ardent fan or are just fascinated by the scale of them, large American trailers represent the pinnacle of RV comfort and luxury. Paul Owen visits NZRVs in Canterbury to check out the Palomino Puma range of travel and destination trailers the company imports and adapts for the New Zealand market.

On the southern fringe of Christchurch city, you’ll find something of a mecca for caravan enthusiasts, particularly those attracted to the spacious and well-equipped mobile homes that hail from the US.

It’s the impressive 20-acre home of NZRVs, a family business owned and operated by Paul Brownie and his daughter, Paulette Redstone. Unlike many of the surrounding lifestyle properties located near the South Island’s largest city, these paddocks aren’t full of show-jumping horses or ready-to-fleece alpacas. Instead, they’re full of ‘Pumas’.

“We like to call this place the Puma Ranch,” says Paulette. “We don’t raise animals here; we breed Pumas instead. It’s a popular local joke.”

In this case, the ‘Pumas’ are the size-L and size-XL double-axle caravans made by the Palomino division of the huge Warren Buffet-owned conglomerate, Forest River Inc., in Elkhart County, Indiana.

Palomino had a humble start building pop-up tent trailers in Minnesota, and two absorptions by larger corporations quickly accelerated its growth and expanded its product range.

The first was when Forest River bought the maker of the brand, Vanguard Industries, in 2002. This allowed the introduction of two lines of caravans and fifth-wheel trailers to be built bearing the Puma brand in two brand-new 33,000sqm production facilities located in Goshen, the county seat of Elkhart.

The second was the acquisition of Palomino RV by Berkshire Hathaway in 2005 when the Buffet-owned holding company purchased the divisions of Forest River. This allowed Palomino RV to enjoy the financing benefits of having a corporation with a market capitalisation of more than $US150 billion behind it. With access to this surge in cash flow, Palomino soon grew to become one of the top five largest RV makers in the US and now sells its products through a US network of 300 dealers – and NZRVs right here in New Zealand, the exclusive dealers of Palomino throughout New Zealand.

Kiwi-bred Palominos

Profile: Palomino Puma
All NZ-bound Pumas come with this modern slate-grey décor

The scale of Forest River Incorporated’s US operations is so mind-boggling that it’s good to come back down to Earth and enjoy the warm welcome of the father-and-daughter team that exclusively imports and sells Palomino Puma RVs in this country. Not that there isn’t any big thinking being done by this pair.

When MCD called in at the Puma Ranch, there were around 50 RVs ready on sale there. It’s a stock level that’s deliberately kept higher than most

New Zealand importers of large dual-axle caravans. Paulette explains why NZRVs ensures that it always has stock available: “Availability is a key part of our customer service, not just in terms of having our destination and travel trailers ready for people to buy immediately but also in ensuring that customers have access to Dad and me personally.

“NZRVs is open 24/7, and we get a lot of positive feedback about this.

“Some customers have told us that they were ready to buy elsewhere, but there was either going to be a long wait for the delivery of their RV or poor communication with the seller.”

The buying process usually begins with a tour of the two large display paddocks where the caravans are located. If customers need extra mobility during this process, NZRVs has a couple of Polaris all-terrain vehicles that can speed up the tour and reduce the exercise, if required (on this sunny Canterbury morning, walking seemed a better option). The dealership offers 12 models of dual-axle caravans, including the destination ‘trams’ that offer alternative permanent living solutions to tiny houses. The tour process is something Paulette relishes, and our questions reveal that she has a detailed knowledge of each Palomino Puma.

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“It’s really important that we find the right caravan for each customer.”

The models selected for import into New Zealand come from the top of the Palomino Puma range, meaning they are manufactured to the highest standard, including upgraded water tanks, electric heaters, and many more features.

They are also fully ‘winterised’: they have the top level of insulation – Grade 7, according to the American scale, and the water tanks are protected from frost and road roost by a fully enclosed underbelly. All are dual-axle models located on powder-coated steel trailers, with a torsion suspension system, and all come equipped with an electric power tongue jack and electric stabilisers.

All Pumas come with at least one slide-out to increase floor space, and many boast dual entry/exit doors, which not only enhances convenience but it also doubles the escape routes in the event of a fire. There’s full guttering all around the outside of the cabin, and the walls are clad with aluminium sheets of either sturdy 0.24 or 0.30 gauge. The quality of the construction was one of the factors that encouraged Paul to take on the Palomino exclusive dealership for New Zealand six years ago, after almost four decades of importing and selling vehicles and RVs.

“I could see that there was a market for American caravans here, and that’s what attracted me to Palomino RV – that and the aluminium cladding.

“Switching from pre-owned to new gave NZRVs a reliable volume supply chain. We always have at least 45 caravans on display here, and buyers can choose from around 12 to 13 models at any time, with all trade-ins welcome.”

Fully-fitted and groomed Pumas

Profile: Palomino Puma
The sofa in the living area converts into a double bed

Pricing of the travel trailer range starts at $129,000 for the 2300kg 22XLE Lite model and increases to $175,000 for the popular-with-families 3100kg 28BHSS, which has a kids’ ‘rumpus room’ equipped with three sets of bunks and a two-seater futon-style bed with a TV feed incorporated into its 11-metre length.

The Pumas are well-equipped for independent living – most come with an 800W solar panel array (the ‘22’ has a 365W solar package), feeding an 800W inverter, and there are custom solar solutions available to suit off-grid options.

Solar energy capture can also be increased by adding a 200W portable array to deploy when you reach the campsite, and the panels all trickle the electrons into a pair of 120Ah AGM Deep Cycle batteries (a lithium battery upgrade is available). There’s ample on-board water storage as well. The 9.6-metre (including A frame) $168,000 27RLSS model offers 163 litres of freshwater storage and has separate 132-litre reservoirs to capture greywater and blackwater.

Strong customer support

Profile: Palomino Puma
These recliners are super-comfy and encourage power naps

The Puma range is sold with a one-year warranty in New Zealand, and if anything relatively minor goes wrong in that period in a remote part of the country, Paul and Paulette will organise a serviced technician near you to fix the problem.

In the event the Puma is damaged and needs bodywork repair, they will either recommend a certified coach builder closest to the customer or it can be returned to base to the NZRVs dealership where there’s a well-equipped weatherproof workshop. Having a coach builder onsite enables any body defects to be quickly rectified.

Let us entertain you

The New Zealand warranty also covers permanent living in the caravan, and Paulette says that some RV warranties can have clauses in the fine print that void the warranty if the caravan is used as a permanent home.

“Ninety percent of our travel and destination trailer customers are buying their caravan to live in it permanently.”

The Palomino Pumas are fully certified to New Zealand electrical standards, gas certified, and travel trailers have WOF and Registration. Speaking of delivery, Paul will often deliver the caravan personally to a customer, then ensure that the new owner is fully engaged with how to operate the systems and even give them a few towing tips if the Puma is their first caravan.

Most buyers turn up at ‘the ranch’ in their tow vehicle and drive their new caravan away. Paulette recommends that they stay somewhere close to Christchurch on their first night in their new RV so that they can quickly sort out any initial confusion about which control does what or other orientation issues.

Pick of the pride

Profile: Palomino Puma
Rear ladder for easy access to the roof for maintenance

When asked to select a single model to represent the Palomino Puma range in the photos that accompany these words, Paulette chose the 27RLSS, a 9.6-metre-long caravan with a luxurious front bedroom featuring a spacious permanent queen bed and a lounge area where a dinette and a sofa can be converted into sleeping quarters to create six berths in total. Although officially a six-berth, the model could qualify as an eight-berth given the two ultra-comfy reclining armchairs at the rear of the caravan that are tempting to have a snooze in.

Like all New Zealand-bound Pumas, the 27RLSS comes furnished with a ‘slate grey’ interior: a mix of grey, light browns, and discreet black highlights that increase the impression of space and look modern.

Paul much prefers it to the ‘café latté’ interior that’s sold as an option in the US and darkens the ambience more. “When Palomino RV came out with the slate grey interior a few years ago, I instantly thought that they’re onto a winner here.”

On the 27RLSS, the sofa and dinette area slide out, creating a hard-to-beat roominess for the living section of the caravan. The front bedroom and bathroom are limited by the 2.4-metre width of the rest of the caravan, but it’s hardly a squeeze in either. That front queen bed is sized to accommodate two XXL humans.

The bathroom has a full-height shower cubicle that’s as spacious as that fitted to most New Zealand houses, and there’s plenty of room left over for ‘the throne’ and the wash basin. Storage needs are addressed by the closets on either side of the main bed, under the bed with outside lockers, and the overhead cupboard space of the living area and the front bedroom.

Given the size and space of the Puma models, perhaps a larger feline like a Tiger would provide a more appropriate nametag for these luxurious American caravans.

Profile: Palomino Puma
Palomino Puma 27RLSS floor plan
Make and modelPalomino Puma 27RLSS
ChassisPowder-coated steel chassis with
a torsion suspension system
Overall length/height/width9600mm/2400mm/3300mm
Cabin length8800mm
Fresh/grey/black waterFresh 163L/Grey 132L/Black 132L
Unladen mass2800kg
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